No savings? Here’s how to still fund your child’s higher education

With college expenses increasing year after year, it is best for parents to plan early and invest to finance their child’s tertiary education. Parents can even plan as early as before their baby is born.

However for various reasons, not everyone can save or does save in advance for education. If you or your parents fall in this group, there are still some options available.

1. Scholarships

A scholarship is monetary help given to support a student’s education. The donor grants the scholarship according to different criteria that normally represent their interests and objectives, usually based on academic achievement. It does not require the recipient to pay back the money.

Your child (the student) must submit an application to the donor (government, corporations and independent foundations). All application are subject to a selection procedure. And, finally the interview.

There is no such thing as a free lunch. Do your research and understand the “catch” that comes with getting a scholarship. Read the terms and conditions carefully.

For example:

  • Most scholarships require a bond.
  • Most scholarships require maintenance of a criteria, for example a minimum CGPA, else the scholarship may be withdrawn.
  • Some scholarships are tied specifically to a certain academic course or discipline.

If you chance upon a scholarship that has passed the application submission deadline, try your luck anyway. There is still a slim chance of success.

To search for what scholarships, financing or opportunities are available, one good resource is the Ministry of Education.

2. Grants

A grant is very similar to a scholarship. The main difference is that grants are often necessary (for example, a student from a poor family). A scholarship however is generally awarded based on merit e.g. a high achiever in both academics and school extra-curricular activities.

The donor can also base the award of grants on specific abilities such as being sports-inclined or active in community projects.

3. Bursaries

A bursary is a financial award to a student based on financial neediness regardless of academic achievements. No repayment is required.

Note: Scholarship, bursaries, and grant providers may request the student to reimburse a portion or all of the award if the student, for instance, leaves the programme before completion.

4. Waiver/discount on tuition fees

Colleges grant waivers or deductions on tuition fees to students based on merit. For example, if the student scores good results in academics, sports, or leadership positions. It can be given before or during a programme.

The amount waived or deducted can be from 25% to a complete waiver, but this is usually subject to renewal every semester to ensure the receiver maintain a minimum CGPA.

5. Loans

If all fails, try to obtain a financial loan to pay for tuition fees and living expenses. Usually, the loan requires a guarantor, for example, parents or relatives of a certain minimum financial standing. There may be exceptions depending on financial capability.

Some loans do offer a conversion from loan to scholarship, provided the student achieves certain criteria, usually based on academic achievement. Read the loan’s terms and agreements thoroughly to find out more.

Malaysians have the PTPTN or National Higher Education Fund Corporation to support students in furthering their education beyond secondary school.

Otherwise, government bodies, banks, and commercial corporations or organisations fund the loans.

Remember, a loan is a loan. Teach your child to understand how this works. Just like with any borrower-lender agreement, your child is agreeing to return the money in certain sums over regular periods spanning a course of a few years.

6. Other options

A. Choice of college

How much salary your child eventually earns is rarely dependent on which college they attended. So, what is it that is really attracting you and your child to attend certain colleges in particular?

  • Most believe that attending a top college abroad is the best choice. Discuss this with your child. Why is this “the best”? Is this really the best choice financially?
  • Can you financially support your child through local college with an option for twinning abroad? How about completing it all locally?
  • Can your child qualify for a place in a local public university? Can you support your child through a local public university until graduation?

B. Choice of course

Not all academic courses are charged equally.

  • Research and understand the different pricing for different courses.
  • Discuss career choices with your child. Can they get the same job through a different course?
  • A-levels versus foundation versus Form 6 STPM versus matriculation. Can your child qualify? Which makes more sense? Can the college of choice accept all?
  • Certificate versus diploma versus advance diploma versus degree. Which route should your child take? Would they want to “pause” their studies or go all the way? Can they qualify for a scholarship?

C. Part-time work

Your child may need to work part-time to partially cover living expenses. While this may affect their studies, your child will learn time management, budgeting, sorting priorities, and learn to appreciate the cost of things.

  • Discuss with your child the options for part-time work. Is the workplace safe? How about transport?
  • Take extra effort to check in on your child regularly. It is a struggle to cope with time management? Help them sort out priorities and overcome problems.
  • Monitor your child for overwhelming stress or loss of focus. You don’t want them failing exams or ignoring their health.
  • In some colleges, students can apply for part-time jobs on campus, for example as research assistants, dorm leaders.

D. Apply for whatever scholarships are available

  • Treat the search as a part-time job. Research, research and research. Then apply, apply and apply.
  • Never say never. Try and try again. Not all scholarships are only for brainiacs or the athletically inclined.

E. Ace the exams you’re taking NOW

  • Impress upon your child the importance of getting excellent results no matter what age they are right now. Having better results makes it much easier to qualify for financial assistance later.

It’ll also be easier for your high-achieving child to cope with studies although they have a part-time job.

F. Postpone college for a year to earn and save money

  • Sometimes there is just no other choice. Discuss this up front with your child when it is still a possibility.
  • Encourage your child to take up a job while still keeping in touch with academic subjects so they won’t be left behind when they continue their studies.
  • Help your child navigate through life. Abandoning their studies can be a tempting option at this point. Impress upon them the importance of keeping their eye on the goal of graduating.
  • Talk with your child and allow them to reflect on what they want in career and life. This is their opportunity to grow up faster than other children.

This article first appeared in

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